Especially when you throw in The Tic Code and the opening-night premiere Dash and Lilly--two movies made for cable. The Tic Code was produced for the Starz! network, which will run the movie 10 times a day till 2003. It's a disease-of-the-week drama written by thirtysomething vet Polly Draper about a musician with Tourette's syndrome (Gregory Hines) who forms a jazz band with a similarly inflicted boy named Miles--as in Davis? Get out of here. Then there's opening-night screener Dash and Lilly, which marks actress Kathy Bates' directorial debut. This biopic, made for the Arts & Entertainment Network, recounts the love life of writers Dashiell Hammett (Sam Shepard) and Lillian Hellman (Judy Davis, good in anything, except Absolute Power). Sounds promising enough (then, so did free love once upon a time), and at least Shepard's coming to town, a real bonus. Or at least it would be if the fest were screening The Right Stuff for the Dennis Quaid trib: Chuck Yeager and Gordo Cooper together at last! But no such luck.
Instead, we're treated with Savior, a strident, cruel, sometimes ridiculous antiwar film produced by Oliver Stone. Playing a man haunted by the terrorist murder of his wife and son is definitely not within the narrow range of the prettier, less talented Quaid brother. Plot: Quaid's wife (Nastassja Kinski) and son bite it in a Paris bombing just seconds after CIA operative Quaid disappointed his boy with the news that they wouldn't be going to the movies tomorrow (career dads can't have it all). He then joins the Foreign Legion and fights on the side of the Serbs in Bosnia. The movie is admirable in the way it looks at how everyone tends to dump on Muslims. But do you really need to watch a little boy shot while following his dog, a sobbing old Croat woman have her finger cut off, and a pregnant girl kicked until she delivers to be convinced that anti-Muslim bigotry is wrong? And do you really need to watch all this through the expressionless eyes of Quaid, whose inner torment registers as constipation? Well, if you do, and you just can't make the Tribute to Dennis Quaid, come over to our place. We haven't taken the tape back to Premiere Video yet.
Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) might have been a nifty choice for Great Director, but we'll never forgive him for Penn & Teller Get Killed. If fest director Alonso Duralde is so hot for dreadful movies (and Xanadu doesn't even qualify as a good bad movie), why not screen Penn's 1966 howler The Chase, which features the biggest cast (Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Robert Duvall) in the worst movie ever based on the words of Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman? And wouldn't that have made a nice bookend with Dash and Lily? God, who do you have to bribe around here to get a little creative programming? Seriously, honoring composer Elmer Bernstein with Animal House? Sorry, but we'll stay home and watch The Great Escape or Sweet Smell of Success.
To be fair, we haven't seen a good hunk of the movies at this year's fest--at least since we were 9 years old--and there are a couple of great pieces on the schedule, most notably director Aviva Kempner's witty, tender documentary on Jewish baseball great Hank Greenberg (titled, oddly enough, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg). And we sure did like The Girl Next Door the first time we saw it...at the Dallas Video Festival a few weeks ago. Uh-oh. We did get the right schedule, didn't we?
--Robert Wilonsky and Jimmy Fowler
The USA Film Festival runs April 22-29. The festival kicks off at the Lakewood Theatre with a screening of Dash and Lilly at 8 p.m.; the rest of the week's films screen at the AMC Glen Lakes Theatres. For more information, call (214) 821-6300.